By Donna Howley and Georgie Gould
For the Review
Does the name Claude Clark ring a bell ? He’s a Roxborough High School graduate who made it big in the art world and whose paintings can be seen in museums from our local Woodmere Art Museum to the Smithsonian and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Born in the South, Clark’s family moved to Philadelphia in 1923 to escape poverty and the Ku Klux Klan. They settled in Manayunk to be closer to relatives that lived in the area and became members of the Josie D. Heard A.M.E. Church on Tower St.
Claude attended Roxborough High School and was the only African American student in his graduating class in June 1935. While attending Roxborough HS, Clark would spend Saturdays attending art classes in Center City. His talent was recognized by the school principal who recommended him for a scholarship so that he could further his artistic talent.
Clark went on to attend the Philadelphia Museum School of Art and later pursued studies at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pa., where he met and became friends with Albert C. Barnes. While there were relatively few celebrated Black artists during his early years, Claude reached out to renowned painter Horace Pippin, who became his friend until Pippin’s passing in 1946.
Throughout his life, Clark mentored Black artists and supported Black causes. A quote attributed to him reflects his commitment, “as a child in the churches, the schools, and the community, I dreamed of a destiny. My search became a single purpose for the dignity of Black Americans.”
Clark became an outstanding art professor and educator, working toward advancing art education and recognition of Black artists. Today his work is displayed in museums across the country and abroad, as well as in the homes of the rich and famous.
The Roxborough Manayunk Wissahickon Historical Society holds a large repository of information about Claude Clark’s life, including poems, short stories, family photos, and of course, examples of his art work. Many of these items were donated to the RMWHS by close friends of the artist. Clark never forgot his local roots and his works of art reflect that love.
If you would like to learn more about the life of Claude Clark visit the RMWHS Archive (rmwhsorg.wixsite.com/home).
Clark’s paintings are on display at the Woodmere in Chestnut Hill and Philadelphia Art Museum.
To explore more about this extraordinary artist on-line, here are some useful sites: claudeclarkart.com, along with the Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, and Metropolitan Museum of Art websites.